[RPG] What exactly are Prestige classes, and what purpose do they serve


What exactly are Prestige classes, and what purpose do they serve? Are they, in any way, better than the default classes? Do they have any disadvantages/advantages to them?

Best Answer

From the DMG, pg176:

Prestige classes offer a new form of multiclassing. Unlike the basic classes found in the Player's Handbook, characters must meet requirements before they can take their first level fo a prestige class. The rules for level advancement (see page 58 of the Player's Handbook) apply to this system, meaning the first step of advancement is always choosing a class. If a character does not meet the requirements for a prestige class before that first step, that character cannot take the first level of that prestige class.

Basically, when you gain a level, you can choose any basic class to gain a level in (unless you're ineligible for alignment reasons). You could instead choose a prestige class, if you meet the prestige class' requirements.

Prestige classes (henceforth PrCs, the typical abbreviation) allow specializations or options not available in base classes, or make it easier to combine different base classes.

Some examples from the DMG are the Arcane Archer, which allows a character to imbue their arrows with magic, the Arcane Trickster, which combines rogue skills & sneak attacks with arcane spellcasting, and the Blackguard, which allows an evil fighter-type to become an anti-paladin.

You can't discuss advantages/disadvantages of PrCs in general: the quality range is simply too wide. Some PrCs offer very nice benefits to players who meet a few simple prerequisites they might want to get anyway, while others require you to meet excessive requirements for fairly minimal benefits.

Almost every class can benefit from taking carefully selected PrCs rather than continuing in their base class (especially wizards), but it's generally best to ask people who are familiar with all the PrCs what choices are best for your base class to aim for (the Giants in the Playground forums are one good place to ask, but you can also try here). Be sure you mention which source books your DM allows you to use PrCs from, as across the couple dozen official 3.5 rulebooks there are well over 100 PrCs. You should also find out if there are any PrCs that your DM specifically forbids: a few are so good that many groups ban them, or strongly enforce any roleplaying restrictions attached to the PrC in order to discourage players from taking them.

It's generally not a question of whether you should take levels in prestige classes so much as which ones and when.

Note that the requirements for most PrCs can't be met until your character is at least level 5 or 6, if not higher, so if you know the game isn't going to reach at least level 6, it's generally not worth worrying about prestige classes.